Monday, April 04, 2005

Can Can in Carytown

cancancaryst.jpg Although I went to Chopsticks Thai Diner (Chopsticks' newest incarnation) last night, I'd like to talk about Can Can across the street instead. It is, of course, the restaurant everyone in Richmond is talking about and on the surface, it's pretty spectacular. It occupies an enormous space (the old Tiffany's Bridal Shop spot in Carycourt), and the attempt to recreate a French bistro is pretty spot-on except for the lack of grime and tobacco residue that seasons all of the real bistros I've been to in France. In many ways it reminds me of the Paris hotel in Las Vegas--fabulous food for the masses in a setting not unlike Busch Gardens (for grown-ups, that is). In Vegas though, they do try to recreate that Parisien grubbiness with some fancy faux-finish aging (and they almost pull it off too, if you squint your eyes and/or drink three or four martinis while ignoring the incessant ringing of the slot machines). Can Can is brand-, spanking new and they keep the lights up all night to prove it. This is unfortunate, since as that oppressive light grates along your neural pathways, you're reminded not so much of the fabulous Fifties in Paris as you are of a Red Lobster anywhere in the Eighties. I can't even begin to speculate why they keep it so bright in there. My bistro days are not as recent as I'd like them to be, but I don't remember a pervasive warehouse ambience throughout the restaurants of France. That being said, the food lived up to the expectations such expensive interior design inspires. I went on a Wednesday night, and was startled to see pork belly as that night's weekly special. Pork belly sounds decidely down-market; visions of pre-Depression era speculators waving scraps of paper as the futures market soars by way of Bugs Bunny and his Loony Tunes pals would normally tap dance through my head. I'd been fortunate enough, however, recently to have heard Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table wax poetic with one of her callers on the subject. In fact so inspired was I, I actually contemplated mail-ordering some but was put off by the (exorbitant) price. And I wasn't disapointed. Pork belly is the cut of meat from which bacon comes--it's just not smoked. At Can Can, it was slowly braised so that the meat was falling away from the unbelievabley unctuous FAT. My small yet extravagantly rich portion was so tender, so sensuous, and so sinful; the meat merely acted as a vehicle to convey melting pork fat to your mouth. This is a dish that violates every dietary rule you've ever heard of (I think even Dr. Atkins, if he were still around, might blanch at this one), and a dish you simply must try if you're ever passing Can Can on a Wednesday and lucky enough to get a table. Tomorrow . . . HORRIBLE SERVICE; or Why A Great Wine List Can't Make Up For An Empty Glass.

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